A Commentary by Gene Hargrove


 
 
 



Bird on BranchThis page is a commentary on the songs and poems in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It includes all material in English that is three lines or more in length (excluding only "Snowmane's Epitaph" in "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields," which is two lines long). The songs and poems are in order of their first appearance.

For my general views on Tolkien music, see my essay "Music in Middle-Earth." For samples of my own interpretations of what the music for these songs and poems may have sounded like (in mp3), see The Music of Middle-Earth (oldforestsounds.com). Links for these, plus some additional songs in wav, are also included with selected songs and poems below. Sheet music for piano and guitar can be found in the songbooks The Music of Middle-Earth, Vol. 1 and The Music of Middle-Earth, Vol. 2.

This commentary is divided into two parts: From the Shire to Rivendell (19 songs) and From Khazad-dum to Gondor (32 songs). Send comments, corrections, and additions to hargrove@unt.edu.  Nominee: LOTR on the Net Contest


  From the Shire to Rivendell

 From Khazad-dum to Gondor

1. Verse of the Rings - (Music)

This song has an Eastern tone that is unlike any other song in the books except for the Wight's Chant, which is a variant of it. In "Shadow of the Past," Gandalf is reluctant to utter the words of this chant aloud, suggesting that there is power in the words. Sauron may have spoken these words during the making of the One Ring. Celebrimbor may have heard them when, during the making of the Ring, he realized the treachery of Sauron. (Illustration: The Dark Tower and The Ring)

2. The Old Walking Song - (Music)

This is a variant of a song spoken by Bilbo at the end of The Hobbit, where the key phrase is "Roads go ever ever on" rather than "The Road goes ever on and on." Bilbo sings it softly to himself in the dark in "A Long-Expected Party." Frodo speaks it in "Three is Company." When Pippin asks if Frodo is reciting some of Bilbo's poetry, Frodo says that he doesn't know, that it came to him as if he was making it up. There is also another version in "Many Partings." Curiously, the music for this song is used in "Old Walking Songs" in "The Grey Havens," where the words are variants of "A Walking Song" and "The Wandering Elves' Song." (Illustrations: The Hill, The Shire, and The Green Hill Country)

3. A Walking Song

According to "Three is Company," Bilbo wrote the words to this song, but put it to a tune that is "as old as the hills," and taught it to Frodo. It was 'hummed" by the Hobbits starting out with Frodo as an alternative to a "supper-song." Some of the words to this song are sung to the tune of "The Old Walking Song" in "The Grey Havens." (Illustration: Hobbiton)

4. The Wandering Elves' Song

This song is sung by Gildor and several other Elves in "Three is Company." Elbereth (Star Queen) or Githoniel (Star Kindler) is Varda (the Exhalted), the wife of Manwe, the "God" of Wind and Eagles. Varda created new and brighter stars to provide light for the Elves when they first appeared in Middle-earth after the destruction of the Lamps and before the making of the Sun and the Moon. The "Sunless Year," the time before the coming of the Sun and the Moon, which was probably many thousands of years, was the time when the Elves first made their appearance. Because the Elves originally lived in a world lit by starlight, they have a preference for silver, grey, and other moonlight colors and a special reverence for Varda (her close association with Manwe, the leader of the Valar, is, of course, probably also a factor). "Snow White" is an English translation of the word "Fanilos." Sam spontaneously calls to Varda in "a language which he did not know" in "The Choices of Master Samwise." Some of the words in this song are part of "Old Walking Songs" in "The Grey Havens." Technically, the Valar were not gods and they are only referred to twice as such in The Silmarillion, by Bereg in "Of the Coming of Men into the West" and by the author of the "Valaquenta" in "Of the Valar": ". . . and Men have often called them gods." Despite a reluctance on the part of Tolkien to refer to them as gods, they sometimes functioned in the trilogy and other published works as gods in a Greek or Roman sense. For example, wind from the west brings hope by suggesting the presence of Manwe. Likewise, the activities of the Eagles in The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings are direct interventions of Manwe. In terms of Tolkien's mythology, however, there is only one god, Iluvatar, the One, who existed in a transcendental sense outside of Middle-earth. The Valar prayed to ("called upon") the One when Ar-Pharazon "set foot upon the shores of Aman," bringing about the separation of the Blessed Realm from Middle-earth (by changing Earth from flat to round). The downfall of Numenor began when Sauron convinced Ar-Pharazon to worship Melkor. Being more careful than their ancestors, the Gondorians in "The Window of the West" have reduced prayer to a moment of silence facing west before meals, looking "towards Numenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be." Jared Lobdell argues in his book England and Always: Tolkiens World of the Rings that Tolkien intended Middle-earth to be part of a Christian universe in which Christ had not yet come and avoided using the word God in a way that would conflict with his Christian beliefs. Curiously, although Lobdell refers to the One as "God" (capital G) and to Gandalf as an angel, he, perhaps inconsistently, refers to the Valar as "the gods" (small G). These concerns about religion and the exact status of the Valar result from the fact that, like the author of Beowulf, Tolkien is a Christian author of a pre-Christian work. (Thanks to Michael Martinez for corrections on this comment.) (Illustrations: Supper with the Elves and Manwe and Varda)

5. A Drinking Song

This is a minor song which is interrupted by the cry of a Nazgul in "A Short Cut to Mushrooms." Although it is a drinking song, Sam and Pippin are merely singing about drinking, not singing as they drink. Like the references to pipe weed, this song is now politically incorrect. Nevertheless, it is a pleasant and harmless tune about an activity that humanity has engaged in throughout known history. (Illustration: At the Prancing Pony and At the Sign of the Prancing Pony)

6. The Bath Song

This delightful song is sung by Pippin while taking a bath in Crickhollow in "A Conspiracy Unmasked." According to the text, it was one of Bilbo's favorite "bath-songs." Whether it was a traditional song that Bilbo liked or one that he personally wrote remains unclear. The song recounts the virtues of hot water in comparison with rain water, stream water, ice water, and fountain water. Amazingly, hot water wins in all categories except one. Beer is said to be better than cold water for pouring down the throat and hot better for pouring down the back. (Thanks to Andy Behrens for a correction on this comment) (Illustration: Bathing at Crickhollow)

7. Adventure Song (Farewell Song of Merry and Pippin) - (Music)

This song is sung in Crickhollow in "A Conspiracy Unmasked" by Merry and Pippin the night before they enter the Old Forest. Because the song is said to be "on the model of the dwarf-song that started Bilbo on his adventure long ago" and is sung to the same tune, it is safe to assume that it was written by Bilbo as a variant of that song. The original song can be found in the first chapter of The Hobbit. The key connecting phrase is "We must away ere break of day." (Illustration: Conspiracy and Leaving the Shire)

8. Song in the Woods

Frodo sings this song in "The Old Forest" to encourage his companions. However, he produces the opposite effect because he stops singing before reaching the end of the song with "For east or west all woods must fail." I suggest the following as a possible upbeat punch line: "And there we'll find a pint of ale!" The Hobbits were having difficulties in the woods in part because of a tree called Old Man Willow, who was probably a Huorn. According to Merry in "Flotsam and Jetsam," who got his information from Treebeard, Huorns were "Ents that had become almost like trees." He adds, "They still have voices, and can speak with Ents - that is why they are called Huorns, Treebeard says - but they have become queer and wild. Dangerous. I should be terrified of meeting them, if there were no true Ents to look after them." Luckily, the Hobbits in the Old Forest soon had Tom Bombadil to help them, who could also speak or sing to such creatures. In "The Road to Isengard," Legolas remarks that the Ents and the Huorns are "the strangest trees that I ever saw." Gimli responds, "Let us leave them! I guess their thought already: hatred of all that walk on two legs; and their speech is of crushing and strangling." Given the obvious danger of Huorns, perhaps the Hobbits can after all be forgiven for falling prey to a tree. Apparently, Old Man Willow had become so tree-like that he could no longer walk and had to lure his potential victims to him. Tree creatures who could walk, ents, were occasionally seen in the Shire. In "The Shadow of the Past," Sam in a discussion with Ted Sandyman in the Green Dragon brings up "these Tree-men, these giants, as you might call them," who reports that "one bigger than a tree was seen up away beyond the North Moor not long back." This one was "walking seven yards to a stride, if it was an inch." (Illustration: Old Man Willow, Old Forest, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry, Old Man Willow, and Old Man Willow)

9. Tom Bombadil's Song

Tom Bombadil is perhaps the most enigmatic and controversial being in Middle-earth. He finds it difficult to speak without eventually bursting into song. Moreover, he uses his songs to control his environment. When Tom hears that the Hobbits are having trouble with Old Man Willow, he responds that he knows the song for him, which he then uses to free the Hobbits. The songs that Tom sings in the Lord of the Rings are variants of a long song in another book of poetry, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, the title song for that book, which recounts various of aspects of Tom's life and his marriage to Goldberry. That song in ATB is followed by a second of approximately equal length: "Bombadil Goes Boating," in which Tom travels to the Shire to visit Farmer Maggot. For a full discussion of Tom, see my essay "Who is Tom Bombadil?" which includes links to other views as well. Tom's song is structurally connected to Legolas's Song of the Sea. Compare, for example, "Can you hear him singing?" in Tom's song with ". . . do you hear them calling?" in Legolas' song. Presumably Legolas' song is sad and wistful while Tom's in upbeat, powerful, filled with explosive energy and humor. Tom is first heard singing in "The Old Forest," he continues "In the House of Tom Bombadil," and is last heard in "Fog on the Barrow-Downs." According to the Lord of the Rings, for the purposes of the index, all of Tom's singing is the continuation of one song. Nevertheless, pieces of this song are separately indexed as "Song to Goldberry" and "Tom's Summons." In The Music of Middle-Earth, I use a selection from "The Old Forest" and "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil": beginning with "Now let the song begin. . . ," turning to the first full stanza of "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil," continuing in "The Old Forest" with ""Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! My darling!" and concluding with "Hop along, my little friends, up the Withywindle!" The first two lines from "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" are heard "In the House of Tom Bombadil" as Tom tends the horses in the stable and Frodo asks Goldberry, " Who is Tom Bombadil?" (Illustrations: Bombadil, Bombadil, In the House of Tom Bombadil, In the House of Tom Bombadil, Goldberry, and Goldberry Dancing)

10. The Wight's Chant

This song, heard in "Fog on the Barrow-Downs," is closely related to the Verse of the Rings. According to "The Hunt for the Ring" in Unfinished Tales, the King of the Nazgul visited the Wights just before the Hobbits ventured into the barrow-downs. The Barrow-wights served the King of the Nazgul during the Third Age, when he was known as the "Witch King of Angmar" and masterminded the collapse of the Kingdom of Arnor, once a realm of the Numenorians with a status equal to and in some respects higher than that of the Kingdom of Gondor. The Wights were probably originally human, but as Wights, they were evil spirits. The Witch King sent them to the barrows in 1636, at the time of a terrible plague. The Wight's chant goes beyond the conflicts of the Second and Third Ages, back to the wars of the Valar with Melkor (Morgoth the Enemy). The failure of the Sun and the death of the Moon would mean the destruction of two vessels and the killing of two Maiar, Airen who guides the Sun, the last fruit of Laurelin, across the sky and Tilion who steers the Moon, the last flower of Telperion. According to "Of the Sun and Moon and the Hiding of Valinor" in The Simarillion, the Sun and Moon were made after the poisoning of the Two Trees to aid the Elves and hinder Morgoth. The stars were made by Varda before the beginning of the wars with Morgoth. The sea and the land were created by Ulmo and Yavanna respectively with the aid of Aule the Smith. If the dark lord were to lift his hand and destroy them, he would accomplish Morgoth's original purposes before the beginning of days. The last of the Dunadain of Cardolan took refuge in the Barrow-downs (Tyrn Gortad) when Amon Sul or Weathertop fell to the Witch King in 1409. According to "The North-kingdom and the Dunadain" in Appendix A, the mounds of Tyrn Gorthad were built in the First Age by the "forefathers of the Edain." They were revered by the Dundain who also buried some of their own kings there. The mound in which Frodo was held prisoner may have been the burial place of the last prince of Cardolan. (Thanks to Michael Martinez for corrections on this comment.) (Illustration: The Barrow-wight's Mound and The Wight)

11. Frodo's Song at Bree

Frodo sings this song while dancing on a table in the bar in Bree "At the Sign of the Prancing Pony." Before finishing an encore performance, he falls off the table and disappears with the help of the Ring. The song can also be found in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, where it is called "The Man in the Moon Stayed Up Too Late." In the preface of ATB, the editor notes that in the Red Book of Westmarch the song is said to have been written by Bilbo. This song is presumably the uncorrupted original of the nursery rhyme, "Hey! Diddle, Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle." It contains the full story of the courtship and elopment of the dish and the spoon and also helpfully reveals how a cow is able to jump over the moon. (Illustration: Frodo Disappears and Frodo in the Prancing Pony)

12. The Riddle of Strider

This poem, which first appears in a letter from Gandalf in "Strider," is used in "Strider" and in "The Council of Elrond" to verify Aragorn's status as a friend of Gandalf's and as a claimant to the throne of Gondor respectively. Yet, in "The Council of Elrond," Bilbo whispers to Frodo that he made the poem up himself "a long time ago when he [Aragorn] first told me about himself." This prophecy, however, could just as easily have applied to each of the previous fifteen chieftains of the Dunadan after the fall of the Kingdom of Arnor and to Aragorn's descendants if it had remained unfulfilled. The poem is closely related to Boromir's Riddle and would presumably be put to similar music. (Illustration: Strider in Bree and Elessar)

13. The Fall of Gil-galad - (Music)

This sad song, sung by Sam in "A Knife in the Dark," recounts the death of Gil-galad, the last of the High-elven kings in Middle-earth. Bilbo taught Sam the song. The song is incomplete because Sam decided not to learn the part about Mordor, which frightened him. The words "But long ago he rode away, and where he dwelleth none can say" are somewhat confusing. These words could be a better applied to an account of the fate of Earnur, last King of Gondor, who rode off to engage in single combat against the King of the Nazgul and never returned. His unsettled fate established the line of Stewards "until the King comes again." In contrast, Gil-galad's fate was well-known. He and Elendil fell at the end of the Second Age fighting Sauron on the slopes of Mount Doom. After his death, Cirdan the Shipwright ruled in the Grey Havens in Lindon, which was no longer a kingdom, but rather a departure point for Elves sailing to the Uttermost West. The final line of the song cannot refer to any mystery about the afterlife of Elves, for that matter, unlike the afterlife of humans, was also well-known. When Luthien died, for example, in "Of Beren and Luthien" in The Silmarillion, her spirit fled to the halls of Mandos in the Uttermost West. Presumably, Gil-galad went there as well. See the final pages "Of the Beginning of Days" for more discussion of the differences between humans and Elves regarding life and death. (Thanks to Joumana Medlej for corrections and additions to this comment.) (Illustration: Elrond Recalls the Host of Gil-galad)

14. Song of Beren and Luthien

Aragorn sings this song to the Hobbits by a campfire in "A Knife in the Dark." Beren and Luthien are the two most important figures in The Silmarillion. They were the ones who took a Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth. Although it is not explained in the text (see "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" in Appendix A), Aragorn's personal life is similar to that of Beren's. Like Beren, Aragorn is a human who is in love with an Elven princess. Arwen Evenstar, like Luthien, will have to give up her immortality when she marries Aragorn. In The Music of Middle-Earth, I use an old British folk tune, "The Cruel Mother," as the basic melody, providing a much better "origin" for that piece of music. (Illustration: Luthien, Luthien Escapes the Treehouse, Beren and Luthien, Morgoth the Enemy, and Dancing Luthien)

15. Sam's Rhyme of the Troll

Sam sings this song in "Flight to the Ford" after explaining that "It ain't what I call proper poetry." The poem also appears in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil under the title "The Stone Troll." In the preface, the editor notes that according to the Red Book, the song was written by Sam Gamgee. When Sam finishing singing, Pippin states, "I've never heard those words before," and after Sam mutters "something inaudible," Frodo replies, "It's out of his own head, of course." Sam and the other Hobbits left Tom Bombadil's house on September 28, 3018 and performed the song on October 18, giving him twenty-one days to compose the words. The occasion of the song is a visit to the place where Bilbo had an adventure with Trolls in The Hobbit, who were turned to stone. Sam's composition is the third adventure for Tom Bombadil, the first being "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil," in which Tom eventually marries Goldberry, and the second being "Bombadil Goes Boating," in which Tom visits Farmer Maggot. (Illustration: The Stone Trolls, Trollshaws, and Farmer Maggot with Frodo)

16. Song of Earendil

This song was written by Bilbo and performed the night before "The Council of Elrond." Aragorn helped polish it up just before the performance. According to the preface of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, the poem was originally a "nonsense rhyme" called "Errantry," which Bilbo then rewrote as the story of Earendil. Earendil was a human who traveled to the Uttermost West to seek help from the Valar against Morgoth the Enemy in the First Age. Although his mission was ultimately successful, because humans were not permitted to enter the Blessed Realm, Earendil was not allowed to return to Middle-earth. Instead, he was put on board of a ship that is now the star Venus. Earendil was the father of Elrond. He had difficulty reaching the Uttermost West because the Valar were trying to prevent the return of the Noldor, who had broken the Ban of the Valar by returning to Middle-earth to war with Morgoth. Light from this star was captured by Galadriel using her mirror and given to Frodo as a parting gift in "Farewell to Lorien." Frodo used the Phial of Galadriel in "Shelob's Lair" and called to Earendil ("Aiya Earendil Elenion Ancalima") as he did, although he "knew not what he had spoken." The light of the star is from the Silmaril, which Beren and Luthien recovered from Morgoth in The Silmarillion. Like their children, Elrond and Elros, and Elrond's daughter, Arwen Evenstar, Earendil and Elwing had to choose as Half-elven whether to become Elves or Humans. (Illustration: Earendil in Flight, Earendil the Mariner, and Earendil Searches Tirion)

17. Boromir's Riddle

Boromir discussed this riddle in "The Council of Elrond." The riddle came to Faramir, the younger son of Denethor, in a dream many times. His brother, Boromir, who claimed to have received the message once, undertook the journey north when Faramir asked his father for permission to seek for Imladris. The riddle is closely related to The Riddle of Strider. Isildur's Bane is the One Ring. The Hafling is Frodo. The "Sword that was broken" is Elendil's sword, which broke when he and Gil-galad killed Sauron at the end of the Second Age. Because Faramir, unlike his brother, had no difficulty overcoming the temptation of the Ring when he met Frodo and Sam in Ithilien in "The Window on the West," Boromir most likely would have been spared his moral downfall and might not have died had he not insisted on taking Faramir's rightful place on the journey to Rivendell. Denethor later rejected his son because he did not steal the Ring.

18. Warning of Winter - (Music)

Bilbo recites this poem in "The Ring Goes South" to emphasize Frodo's situation: that he can't wait for spring and so must venture into the wild in winter as soon as possible. According to the preface of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, the poem is "Bilbo's," presumably indicating his authorship. The poem is recorded in the Red Book and in the margin of that page is the following piece of "nonsense," most likely also written by Bilbo:

"The wind so whirled a weathercock
He could not hold his tail up;
The frost so nipped a throstlecock
He could not snap a snail up.
'My case is hard' the throstle cried,
And 'All is vane' the cock replied;
And so they set their wail up."

(Illustration: Caradhras, Approaching Caradhras, The Anger of the Mountain, and Caradhras.)

19. Bilbo's Song

This song, sung by Bilbo in "The Ring Goes South," expresses Bilbo's sadness that he is too old to go on another adventure and write another book. The most quoted lines are: "in every wood in every spring / there is a different green." Bilbo also thinks about both the past ("people long ago") and the future ("people who will see a world / that I shall never know"). This song is thematically related to the various walking songs, particularly "The Old Walking Song." In that song, the doorstep is said to be the beginning of the road to anywhere. In this song, the doorstep is a place of return, where one listens "for returning feet / and voices at the door." (Illustration: Bilbo Waiting, Bilbo in Rivendell, and Frodo Awakes)


 
 
 

 1. Song of Durin

Gimli Gloin chanted this song in "A Journey in the Dark" in the city of Dwarrowdelf or Khazad-dum in Moria, an underground complex of caves and tunnels. It recounts the building, the glory, and the fall of this Dwarf community. According to Part II of Appendix A, "Durin's Folk," there were six Dwarf kings in Moria named Durin. The first was Durin the Deathless, who earned this name because of his very long life. He was the ancestor of all of Durin's Folk and the founder of the Mines of Moria. The other five Durins were so like him that they were considered to be the original Durin reincarnated. The last line of the song refers to the expected seventh reincarnation. The downfall of Moria came, as Gandalf put it, when the Dwarves "delved too greedily and too deep, disturbed that from which they fled, Durin's Bane." It was a Balrog, a servant of Morgoth the Enemy, that had been hiding at the roots of the mountain since the end of the First Age. It was called Durin's Bane because it killed Durin VI and routed his people from their underground community. Durin the Deathless was the eldest of the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves, created by Aule the Smith in "Of Aule and Yavanna" in The Silmarillion, and was therefore the first Dwarf. (Thanks to Michael Martinez for corrections on this comment.) (Illustration: Moria, Mirrormere, The Balrog, and Flight in Moria)

2. Song of Nimrodel (Music by Russell Valentino)

This song, sometimes called the "Song of Amroth," recounts the sad story of Amroth and Nimrodel. Legolas sings it by a waterfall on a stream named after Nimrodel in "Lothlorien." In "Concerning Galadriel and Celeborn" in "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn" in Unfinished Tales, Amroth is said to be the son of Galadriel. However, in "Amroth and Nimrodel" in the same chapter, he is the son of Amdir. Amroth was the King of Lorien before the arrival of Galadriel, who was then the ruler of Eregion, where the Rings of Power were made. Although Nimrodel loved Amroth, she would not marry him unless he took her to a land free of war. After setting out for the Bay of Belfalas, to take ship to the Uttermost West, they were separated in the White Mountains. Unable to find her, he journeyed on to Belfalas. Taking ship reluctantly, Amroth changed his mind, threw himself into the sea, attempted to swim back to Middle-earth, and was never seen again. The fate of Nimrodel is still unknown. (Illustration: Cerin Amroth)

3. Frodo's Lament for Gandalf

This song, which was written and performed in "The Mirror of Galadriel," is apparently the only one that we know of specifically written by Frodo, although he did once imagine that he was the author of "The Old Walking Song." The song took shape in Frodo's thought as he sat beside the fountain of Lorien in "The Mirror of Galadriel." It is his tribute to Gandalf, whom he believed had been killed by the Balrog in Moria. When Frodo repeated it to Sam, he could not remember the whole song, "only snatches remained, faded as a handful of withered leaves." The final stanza was written by Sam to call special attention to Gandalf's skill with fireworks. (Illustration: Gandalf, The Balrog, Balrog, Balrog, The Bridge of Khazad-Dum, and Gandalf Fights the Balrog)

4. Galadriel's Song

Galadriel sings this song from her Swan-ship in "Farewell to Lorien," as the Company of the Ring (the Nine Walkers) are about the begin their canoe trip down the Anduin River. The early part of the song recounts Galadriel's influence on Lorien, perhaps with the aid of one of the Elven Rings of Power. After speaking of the decline (coming winter) of Lorien, the song concludes with the following lines:

But if of ships I now should sing, what ship would come to me,
What ship would bear me ever back across so wide a Sea?

These lines refer to Galadriel's special status in Middle-earth. Galadriel came to Middle-earth with the Noldor, who broke the Ban of the Valar (not to do so), in order to try to recover the Simarilli from Morgoth the Enemy. Although, according to at least one account in "The History of Galadriel and Celeborn" in Unfinished Tales, she had just been given permission to make a visit to Middle-earth, the Valar later ruled that she too had broken the ban. At the end of the First Age, all Elves who asked forgiveness were allowed to return to the Blessed Realm. Galadriel alone refused to beg forgiveness, probably feeling that she had done nothing wrong, and afterward the ban applied to her exclusively. Because she passed the test, by not attempting to steal the One Ring from Frodo, she was permitted at the end of the Third Age to return to the Uttermost West without apology. She begins this journey in "The Grey Havens," traveling to Valinor with Elrond, Frodo, and Gandalf. (Illustration: The Ring of Galadriel, Lothlorien, Farewell to Lorien, Galadriel in her Swan Boat, and The Mirror of Galadriel)

5. Lament for Boromir

According to "The Departure of Boromir," Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli Gloin disposed of the body of Boromir by sending it over Rauros Falls on the Anduin River in a canoe. Aragorn and Legalas then sang this song. Aragorn sang the first and third stanzas, inquries to the west and north winds respectively. Legalas sang the second, an inquiry to the south wind. Gimli Gloin declined to sing of the east wind. This special care, with Frodo and Sam lost and Pippin and Merry being carried away by Orcs, shows the high regard that the three remaining members of the Company of the Ring had for Boromir, the heir of Denethor, Steward of Gondor. Their concern was important for political reasons because Aragorn was a rival for the throne of Gondor, who would claim the kingship and who, if successful, would end the line of ruling stewards. Indeed, according to "The Stewards" in Appendix A, Aragorn, under the name Thorongil, had been regarded in Gondor as a rival of Denethor, before he became Steward. However, because the composition of the song would presumably have taken some time, when there was much else to do and lives were at stake, it seems unlikely that this funeral actually occurred. More likely, Legolas and Aragorn polished up these verses when time permitted as they pursued the Orcs carrying Merry and Pippin away. According to Faramir in "The Window on the West," Borormir, his sword, horn, and the Elven canoe survived the falls and the canoe carried Boromir off down the Anduin River to the Sea. Faramir considered his vision of Boromir on the river to be a real event: "Dreamlike it was, but no dream, for there was no waking." (Illustration: Pillars of the Kings, The Falls of Rauros, The Death of Boromir, The Funeral of Boromir, and The Death of Boromir) Response: Nancy Martsch

6. Song of Gondor - (Music)

Aragron sings this song in "The Riders of Rohan" as he enters Rohan, which is a part of Gondor that was given to the Rohirrim when they came to the aid of Gondor about five hundred years earlier. According to "The Stewards" in Appendex A, Aragorn served King Thengel of Rohan before traveling to Gondor proper to serve Ecthelion II under the name Thorongil. His time in Rohan and Gondor earned him support in Gondor on both sides of the civil war, Kin Stife, which was a struggle between those who loved the land and those who love the sea. In Rohan Aragorn established his prowess on land; in Gondor he engineered important victories over the Corsairs at sea, before returning to the Wild in the North. (Illustration: Aragorn Enters Rohan and The Chase of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli)

7. The Long List of the Ents

Treebeard in "Treebeard" hums his way through this song, trying to figure out what kind of creatures Merry and Pippin are. When it becomes clear that Hobbits are not in the list, Pippin recommends "Half-grown hobbits, the hole-dwellers." Treebeard actually made up a new line of his own, which he revealed in "The Voice of Saurman": "and hungry as hunters, the hobbit children, the laughing folk, the little people." Since this song is in Westron (Merry and Pippin can understand it), it was probably composed by the Elves for the Ents after they discovered them and started talking to them. (Illustration: Treebeard and Wellinghall)

8. Treebeard's Song

Treebeard chants this song to Merry and Pippin in "Treebeard" on the way to Wellinghall. He sings about parts of Middle-earth that were cast under the sea at the end of the First Age. The song is in two parts. The first part is an appraisal of various regions. It ends when Treebeard finds one so wonderful that "My voice went up and sang in the sky!" Presumably there should be a pause between this line and "And now all those lands lie under the wave." With this short lament, Treebeard briefly mentions the places where he now walks, with special emphasis on his own forest. (Illustration: Treebeard, and Merry and Pippin Meet Treebeard)

9. The Ent and the Entwife

This song, sung by Treebeard in "Treebeard," is in the Westron because it would be too long in Ent language. It is an argument between an Ent (the male of the species) and an Entwife (the female of the species) over how they should lead their lives. Because the Ents preferred wildlands and the Entwives agricultural lands, the Entwives left Fangorn Forest and crossed the Anduin River to conduct agricultural experiments in what is now called the Brown Lands. When the Ents went looking for their wives, they could not find them and ever after they spent time searching for them. The sighting of an Ent is discussed by Sam and Ted Sandyman in the Green Dragon at Bywater in "The Shadow of the Past." According to Tolkien, in his Letters, the Entwives were killed during the second war against Sauron in the Second Age (The Last Alliance of Elves and Men), in which Sauron attacked Gondor and then was forced back into Mordor, where, after a long siege, Saurons body was slain by Gil-galad and Elendil and the ring cut from his hand by Isildur. Presumably the Entwives were killed when their agricultural fields were burned as part of a scorched earth policy, creating the Brown Lands. (Special thanks to Michael Martinez for calling serious errors in this comment to my attention.) (Illustration: Treebeard with Merry and Pippin and Fangorn Forest)

10. Bregalad's Song

Bregalad laments in this song the loss of his favorite stand of rowan trees while entertaining Merry and Pippin in "Treebeard" during Entmoot, a very long discussion among the Ents about what they should do. He is also known as Quickbeam because he answered a question before one of his elder's finished asking it. (Illustration: Entmoot and Fangorn Forest)

11. The Ents' Marching Song - (Music)

This is the song that the Ents sing in "Treebeard" as they march to Isengard to war with Saruman. This march is similar to the march of a forest on a castle in "Macbeth," the only play of Shakespeare that Tolkien liked. The battle of Eowyn and Merry against the King of the Nazgul in "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields" is a second Macbethian similiarity. In "Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion" in Appendix A, Glorfindel declared, "Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall." Macbeth, who could not be killed by a man born of woman, was killed by a man born by Caesarean section. The Nazgul died likewise at the hands of a woman or a Hobbit, depending on how one looks at the matter. (Illustration: Ents)

12. Galadriel's Messages

Galandriel sends messages to Aragorn and Legolas via Gandalf the "White" in "The White Rider." The message to Aragorn refers to Aragorn's upcoming trip through the Paths of the Dead in "The Passing of the Grey Company." This message is closely related to Malbeth the Seer's Words. Legolas' message warns him that if he goes near the sea, he will develop a desire to go on to the Uttermost West. This longing develops and is revealed in Legolas' Song of the Sea," which he sings in "The Field of Cormallen." According to the last page of Appendix A, Legolas followed his heart and left Middle-earth after the death of King Elessar (Aragorn) - and he took Gimli Gloin with him. Gimli, disappointed that there seems to be no message for him from Galadriel, is consoled with an unrhymed message that Gandalf probably invented on the spot. (Illustration: Gandalf the White, Galadriel and The Mirror of Galadriel)

13. Lament of the Rohirrim - (Music)

This poem is chanted by Aragorn in "The King of the Golden Hall" in the language of the Riders of Rohan. He then provides this translation in the Common Speech. As Aragorn explains, the rider is Eorl the Young who brought the Rohirrim to the defense of Gondor five hundred years earlier. His horse was named Felarof. A short account of Eorl can be found in "The House of Eorl" in Appendix A. A much more detailed account is available in "The Ride of Eorl" in "Cirion and Eorl" in Unfinished Tales. A picture on woven cloth of Eorl on his horse during the Battle of the Field of Celebrant was hanging in the throne room of Theoden. (Illustration: The Golden Hall, The Riders of Rohan, and The Oath of Eorl the Young)

14. Gandalf's Song of Lorien

Gandalf sings this song softly in defense of Galadrial during argument with Grima Wormtongue in "The King of the Golden Hall." It is hard to imagine how the Rohirrim could have concluded that Galadriel was their enemy, since she helped them on their ride from the north during the time of Eorl, according to "The Ride of Eorl" in "Cirion and Eorl" in Unfinished Tales. Yet, even Eomer speaks badly of her in "The Riders of Rohan" when he meets Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli on the plains: "Few escape her nets, they say. These are strange days." (Illustration: Lothlorien)

15. Call-to-Arms of the Rohirrim

Theoden chanted this cry in the tongue of Rohan raising Eomer's sword above his head in "The King of the Golden Hall." It signifies Theoden's recovery from the influence of Grima Wormtongue and Saruman. In " Theoden's Battle Cry," with very similar wording, Theoden shows his willingness to honor his oath to Gondor. (Illustration: Wormtongue, Theoden, and Eowyn)

16. Gandalf's Riddle of the Ents

Gandalf chants this poem while speaking with Theoden about Ents in "The Road to Isengard." Introducing the poem, Gandalf states that Ents are "a power that walked the earth, ere elf sang or hammer rang," signifying that Ents appeared in Middle-earth before the Elves and the Dwarves. This short poem is a structural variant of "The Hoard" in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil: "Ere pit was dug or Hell yawned, ere dwarf was bred or dragon spawned. . . ."

17. A Rhyme of Lore

Gandalf sang this rhyme as he and Pippin rode across the plains of Rohan in "The Palantir." Pippin, curious about the Palantir thrown from Orthanc, touched it and ended up speaking with Sauron himself. To spare Pippin from further temptation, so that he could remain an "honest fool," Gandalf took him along on his ride to Gondor. Gondorians generally stopped looking into the Palantiri after one fell into the "hands" of Sauron for fear that they would be corrupted by him. Saruman looked and was corrupted, if he is wasn't already. Denethor was not corrupted, but was fed misinformation about the situation of Gondor that caused him to fail morally through pride and despair. Only Pippin and presumably Aragorn, who revealed himself to Sauron through the Palantir, came away unharmed, although Aragorn's controversial talk with Sauron did prompt an immediate full-scale attack on Minas Tirith. "Tall ships and tall kings" refer to the Faithful who returned to Middle-earth at the time of the destruction of Numenor. "Seven stars" refers to Elendil, the leader of the Faithful, and his heirs, representing the single star of each of the seven ships of the Faithful with a Palantir. These stars later appear on a flag unfurled by Aragorn on the Corsair ships in "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields." The "seven stones" refer to the Palantiri, communication devices given to the Numenorians by the Elves. The "White Tree" was a fruit of Nimloth stolen by Isildur from the King's Court of Numenor, which was then planted in Minas Ithil. Nimloth was a seedling of Celeborn, given to Elros (Elrond's human brother and the first King of Numenor) by the Elves of Eressea. Celeborn was a seedling of Galathilion, the White Tree of the Eldar, a model of Telperion, made by Yavanna. Telperion was one of the Two Trees of Valinor, created by the Yavanna and Nienna. The light of these two trees, which interacted in a twelve-hour cycle, was captured by Feanor in the three Silmarilli, which were then stolen by Morgoth the Enemy. The White Tree of Minas Tirith (earlier known as Minas Anor) withered at the end of the Third Age. In "The Steward and the King" Aragorn found another sapling of the line of Nimloth and planted it in the city. The discovery of this tree by Aragorn was taken as a sign of renewal in Gondor and most importantly of the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn. (Illustration: The Ride of Gandalf and Pippin, The White Tree and Saruman with the Palantir), and Yavanna Sings Under the Two Trees

18. Gollum's Song and Gollum's Riddle - (Music)

Gollum sings this song at the beginning of "The Passage of the Marshes." Although "Gollum's Song" and "Gollum's Riddle" appear as separate poems in the index to The Lord of the Rings, I consider them to be two stanzas of the same rough song. Consider that the final two lines of "Gollum's Song," unspoken by Gollum, are obviously, "to catch a fish, so juicy-sweet," the final lines of "Gollum's Riddle." Indeed, "Gollum's Riddle" is only a riddle because Gollum elects not to sing the last two lines of "Gollum's Song." This riddle is tied to the riddles of "Riddles of the Dark" in The Hobbit, where it is noted that riddles were the only game that Gollum had ever played when he was still a Hobbit and had someone to play with. Interestingly, there is another fish riddle in The Hobbit. This riddle game was the mechanism by which the One Ring moved from Gollum to Bilbo. (Illustration: Gollum with Fish)

19. Oliphaunt - (Music)

Sam "speaks" this "poetry" to Gollum at the end of "The Black Gate is Closed," when he asks him if Oliphaunts (elephants) exist. Sam refers to it as "a rhyme of the Shire," "nonsense, maybe." The poem appears in The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, but no new information is provided about it. The editor merely notes that Sam said in The Lord of the Rings that the song was "traditional in the Shire." Gollum's response to Sam's question is "No, no oliphaunts. . . . Smeagol has not heard of them. he does not want to see them. he does not want them to be." Nevetheless, an Oliphaunt does appear at the end of "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit." (Illustration: An Oliphaunt, Mumak of Harad. The Oliphaunt. Mumak, and Frodo, Sam, and Gollum in Moria)

20. Malbeth the Seer's Words - (Music)

In "The Passing of the Grey Company," rangers from the north arrive together with Elladan and Elrohir, who bring a message from their father, Elrond: "Bid Aragorn to remember the words of the seer and the Paths of the Dead." In "Gondor and the Heirs of Anarion" in Appendix A, Malbeth is said to have predicted that Arvedui would be the last king of Arnor (Arthedain) and that Earnil would be the last king of Gondor. The Dead swore allegiance to Isildur, but then broke their oaths. Their aid to Aragorn against the Corsairs of Umbar ultimately fulfilled these oaths. This poem is closely related to one of Galadriel's Messages. The Stone of Erech was a large black stone brought to Middle-earth from Numenor at the time of its destruction. (Illustration: The Paths of the Dead and The Stone of Erech)

21. Lament for Theoden

This song, which appears in "The Muster of Rohan," could better be called "The Ride of Theoden" rather than "The Lament of Theoden," since Theoden is in his glory and suffers no harm in it. "[T]he songs of Rohan were busy [with this ride] for many long lives of men thereafter." This ride parallels the ride of Eorl the Young earlier in the Third Age, who brought his people unexpected to a Gondorian battlefield and at the moment of direst need helped route the agents of Sauron. This song and The Mounds of Mundberg most closely approximate the northern musical tradition in Europe in the Dark Ages. See my essay, "Music in Middle-Earth." (Illustration: Theoden's Army on the Way to Dunharrow and The Ride of the Rohirrim)

22. Theoden's Battle Cry

This cry in "The Ride of the Rohirrim" is a varient of Theoden's "Call-to-Arms of the Rohirrim." The battle cry reveals Theoden's determination to honor the oath of the Rohirrim whether he and his army are too late or not. As in "The King of the Golden Hall," Theoden appears to overcome both his age and doubt. (Illustration: Theoden, Theoden Espies the Serpent Banner, and The Battle of the Pelennor Fields)

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 23. At Theoden's Death

Sung by Eomer upon the death of Theoden in "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields," he reminds the Rohirrim that a battle is still to be fought. After the song, however, as he arranges for the king's body to be carried away in honor, he sees the fallen body of his sister, Eowyn, whom he concludes is also dead. He rides away in a "cold fury" and a "fey mood," chanting "Death, death!" As noted above, in The Ents's Marching Song, Eowyn and Merry's confrontation with the King of the Nazguls parallels a similar situation in Shakespeare's "MacBeth," in which MacBeth finds himself, in the context of a prophecy, facing a man not born of woman. Glorfindel's prophecy in the Second Age, spoken to Earnur, was: "Do not pursue him! He will not return to this land. Far off yet is his doom, and not by the hand of man will he fall." Although it is not politic to overlook Eowyn (who distracted the Nazgul), technically the Ringwraith fell by the hand of hobbit, by Merry, who stabbed him from behind, "piercing the sinew behind his mighty knee." The cause of the Ringwraith's fall was Merry's blade. As the text notes, "No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, braking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will." After Earnur became King of Gondor, he disregarded Glorfindel's prophecy, and went off to respond to a seond challenge by the Witch King, never to return. Because Earnur's body was never recovered and there was no claimant of pure blood, the rule of the stewards "until the return of the king" was begun. The Stewardship of Gonder did not come to an end until Aragorn claimed the throne of both Gondor and Arnor at the end of the Third Age. The chief reason for the reign of the Stewards was to avoid civil war, the return to "Kin-strife." The crown had previously been claimed by Arvedui, the last king in Arnor, an ancestor of Aragorn, but was turned down on technical legal grounds, independent of issues related to Kin-strife, that Arvedui was not a descendant of Anarion. Aragorn's claim to the kinship was based on his claim to a united kingdom (Arnor and Gondor) as a descendant of Elendil, Anarion's father, who was clearly king of both lands. (Illustration: Eowyn and the Nazgul, Eowyn and the Witch King of Angmar, Eowyn and the Nazgul, Eowyn and the Lord of the Nazgul, and Eowyn and Eowyn and the Nazgul.)

24. Eomer's Song

Seeing the seeming arrival of the Corsairs of Umbar, Eomer sings this song in "The Battle of the Pelennor Fields." The doubt in "Out of doubt" refers to the manipulations of Grima Wormtongue and Saruman."Hope's end" refers to the sighting of the ships: "hope died in his heart." The beginning of this "fey mood" came with the discovery of his sister Eowyn upon the battlefield: "Death! Ride, ride to ruin and world's ending." The Burial Song of Theoden" in "Many Partings" is the positive completion of this song. Moments after singing the song, Eomer, while laughing at despair, his mood changes to wonder and joy, as he realizes that the ships of the Corsairs are flying the flag of Aragorn.

25. The Mounds of Mundberg

This song completes the "Battle of the Pelennor Fields" and, though a different song, completes the actions begun in "The Lament of Theoden." Mundberg is the name in the language of Rohan of Mina Tirith. The mounds are the mass graves of the Riders of Rohan and "their league-fellows, lords of Gondor." The Orcs were simply burned. Like "The Lament of Theoden," this song is comparable to the earliest human music in Northern Europe in the Dark Ages. See my essay, "Music in Middle-Earth."

26. Athelas

This rhyme is recited by the herb-master of "The Houses of Healing," which he declares to be a rhyme of the "old days" which women "still repeat without understanding." Aragorn's ability to deal with the fell influence (Black Breath) of the Ringwraiths helps establish the legitimacy of his claim to the throne of Gondor. Aragorn is fulfilling a prophecy that the king, when he returns, will have healing hands. Curiously, Aragorn also uses Athelas in "Flight to the Ford" to help keep Frodo alive but without comparable fanfare. (Illustration: The Healing of Eowyn)

27. Song of Lebennin - (Music)

This song is sung by Legalos in "The Last Debate" during his account of the attack on the fleet of the Corsairs of Umbar. Lebennin is the north shore of Anduin River just before it empties into the Bay of Belfalas. The south shore is South Ithilien. It is at this time that Legolas first feels his longing for the sea. This longing was anticipated in "Galadriel's Messages." It is fully expressed in "Legolas' Song of the Sea." Lebinnen means "five rivers." They were the Gilrain, Serni, Celos, Sirith, and Erui.

28. Sam's Song

Believing that his journey had ended in vain and that Frodo was lost, Sam sang this song in "The Tower of Cirith Ungol." At first he murmured "old childish tunes out of the Shire, and snatches of Mr. Bilbo's rhymes." Then "words of his own came unbidden to fit the simple tune," indicating that that Sam is the author of the lyrics but not the music. His singing annoyed an Orc, who thought that Frodo singing, giving away the place of where Frodo was being held prisoner, leading to his immediate rescue. (Illustration: In Shelob's Lair) and Minas Morgul

29. Legolas' Song of the Sea

This song, sung in "The Field of Cormallen," most fully expresses Legolas' longing for the Sea and the journey to the Uttermost West. The "Last Shore" refers to the shore of Eldamar. The "Lost Isle" is Eressea, which was broken off from Middle-earth and moved to the Uttermost West as a transport for Elves by Ulmo and then left there as the eastern most island. "No man can discover [it]" because it was forbidden by the Valar. When Earendil journeyed there and beyond, he was not permitted to return. Travel to the Uttermost West can be compared to a transition into death, a trip to heaven. This view is suggested by Saruman's mocking remarks to Galadriel about her return to the Blessed Realm: "It will be a grey ship, and full of ghosts." Legolas makes the same point to Gimli with regard to "Galadriel's Messages": "Would you have her speak openly of your death?" This song is structurally related to "Tom Bombadil's Song," but would be sung in a different manner and perhaps to a different tune.(Illustration: The Grey Ship of the Elves and The Light of Valinor)

30. The Eagle's Song

After the Fall of Sauron, an Eagle flew to Minas Tirith in "The Steward and the King" to announce victory. He also predicted the return of the king and the planting of the White Tree. The Eagles, servants of Manwe, were Maiar, servants of the Valar, like the wizards, Sauron, and the Balrogs. They were helpful in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In "Of the Beginning of Days" in The Silmarillion, it is said that "Spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles flew ever to and from [Manwe's] halls; and their eyes could see to the depths of the seas, and pierce the hidden caverns beneath the world." (Illustration: Birdlord, Eagles, Eagles, A Rescue, Eagles at Mount Doom.)

31. Burial Song of Theoden

This song is sung by the Riders of Rohan at Theoden's funeral in "Many Partings." It is the resolution of "Eomer's Song." Instead of "hope's ending" with Theoden, "Hope he rekindled, and in hope ended." This emphasis on "hope" provides a sharp contrast with the "despair" of Denethor in "The Pyre of Denethor." In many respects, Theoden's death is also a suicide, since it is hard to imagine that he or anyone else expected that he would live through the battle. Yet, there are important differences. In "The Pyre of Denethor," Gandalf tells Denethor, "Authority is not given to you, Steward of Gondor, to order the hour of your death. . . . And only the heathen kings, under the domination of the Dark Power, did thus, slaying themselves in pride and despair, murdering their kin to ease their own death." In "Ofermod" in "Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son" in The Tolkien Reader, Tolkien discusses excessive pride (ofermod), responsibility, and loyalty. The relationship of king and subordinate requires, Tolkien claims, responsibility from above and loyalty from below. Although both Denethor and Theoden display pride, Denethor gives up his responsibility when he elects to kill himself and his son Faramir. In contrast, though Theoden's death is nearly certain, it is honorable because it occurs as he carries out his responsibility. Moreover, his death does not hurt his people because he establishes the line of succession, naming Eomer king. If anything, the Rohirrim fight with more determination and resolve. They go beyond hope ("hope's ending"), not to despair, but to a grim determination from which there is no return.

32. Old Walking Songs

This song, sung in "The Grey Havens" on the occasion of the departure of Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Frodo, combines the major walking songs, both Elf and Hobbit. The tune is said to be "The Old Walking Song." The words are from "A Walking Song" and "The Wandering Elves' Song." This mixing of song is appropriate because it occurs at the beginning of a journey, an ultimate one, of a Maia (Gandalf), an Elf (Galandriel), a Half-Elf (Elrond), and a Hobbit (Frodo). (Illustration: The Grey Havens, Departure of the Grey Havens, The Last of the Fellowship, The Shores of Valinor, and Valinor)



 

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Verses from "The Lord of the Rings"

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